First-term Meridian legislator no longer has 'all the answers'

First-term Meridian Rep. Jason Monks navigates the legislative learning curve and reflects on a busy session

zkyle@idahostatesman.comApril 3, 2014 

  • The work of a first-term legislator

    Rep. Jason Monks, 45, serves on three Idaho House committees: Environment, Energy and Technology; State Affairs; and Business.

    He owns The Blind Gallery in Meridian, which has five employees and sells window blinds and shades. He's a part-owner of the nearby Valley Medical, which has 11 employees and rents equipment for hospice care.

    Monks will run unopposed in the May GOP primary.

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, never set foot inside the Capitol before filing paperwork to run for election in 2012. The father of four biological children and four adopted kids knew plenty about family. The owner of two small companies knew plenty about business. Monks saw himself as a "nonpolitician," and he saw that as a good thing.

Of course, you have to know the rules of the game before you can play. So Monks spent the 2013 session learning the legislative process. At times it was overwhelming. This year he felt more at home, but he said he remains humbled.

"Two years ago, I had all the answers," Monks said as he sat in the back office of The Blind Gallery, his window blinds business in Meridian. "I don't have all the answers anymore."

Q: What was it like being the fresh face at the Capitol last year?

A: In some ways it was easier, because I didn't know how much I didn't know. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what anybody else was doing. This session was a little more stressful because I had greater expectations for myself. I expected to understand everything.

Q:When you were a freshman, did you feel the need to defer to veteran lawmakers or to make your presence felt?

A: If you're on the floor debating every bill that comes along, there's a tendency to dismiss your comments. There are these euphemisms everybody uses: Pick your battles. You only have so much ammunition. Keep your powder dry. There's a hundred ways we've been told, and there's a lot of truth to it.

Q: Do you worry that you won't be taken seriously if you're too quiet or too boisterous?

A: Absolutely. There are some people who never talk, and there's some people I think talk too much. Where do I fall on that? I don't know.

Q: You may have heard it's an election year. Did you see more litmus-test kinds of bills than last?

A: For a year that wasn't supposed to be controversial, we had some bills that were controversial. No matter how you felt about the religious freedom bill or campus security or agriculture security - or call it ag-gag - all of those were controversial.

Q: What was your highlight of the 2014 session?

A: The (March) interview with the "Today" show about the campus security bill was the coolest thing that happened. Both I and my son, Kelby (Monks), testified in support of the bill in State Affairs. He's a Boise State University student. When it showed on TV, I got a text from my sister in Texas. It said, 'I saw you on the Today Show. You looked great."

(The bill, which allows concealed weapons permit holders 21 and older to carry on college campuses, is now law).

Q: Did the Add the Words protesters' presence at the Capitol affect you?

A: I thought it was great. They wanted their voices heard. I don't think anybody could say we didn't know their position when the session ended. That's exactly what they wanted to accomplish, and that's democracy in action.

Q: Do you think there will be an Add the Words hearing next year?

A: Sitting on State Affairs, I saw the religious freedom bill come through. It wasn't supposed to be an issue regarding the LGBT community, but it turned into that. We had a fairly long hearing, and we heard from a lot of people. I think that was a preliminary hearing on those issues this year, and I'd be surprised if we didn't have something more official next year about adding the words to the human rights bill.

Q: How does the session affect your family life?

A: There's almost always events going on in the evening, and you try to make yourself available to the people putting on those events, whether they are related to agriculture or health and welfare or education or other things. I tried to bring my wife to two of those a week so we could actually spend time together. Once, there were four days straight where I never saw my kids. They were in bed when I left, and they were in bed when I got home. That's tough.

Q: Did you manage your businesses during the session?

A: During the session, I'd usually come in two weekends a month to do bills. I've got fantastic staff at both locations. They can operate without me there. I'm very fortunate because, without them, there's no way I could do it.

Q: Two of the major business bills debated this session - the tax reimbursement for companies creating new jobs, which passed, and expanding the personal property tax exemption, which didn't - were criticized as giving handouts to big business. As a small-business owner who voted for both, how do you respond?

A: Some of these economic development things help out the new businesses, but they don't help out the businesses that have been paying taxes for 20 years. I don't think that's necessarily fair. I'm a straight capitalist, conservative-type guy. I believe the market will always fix it if you allow it to. However, we don't live in a vacuum. We have to compete with Utah, Washington, Wyoming, all of the other states. If we don't provide incentives, we're going to lose our businesses and we won't get any businesses to come here. So I did vote for those bills, though they are against my core beliefs. There's reality - then there's how you want things to be.

Q: Does this frustrate you as a small-business owner?

A: If we're helping the big businesses, we're helping the small businesses as well.

Q: So it would help The Blind Gallery and Valley Medical if Apple opened an operation in Meridian?

A: I'd be happy to install new blinds in their building and provide medical supplies for all their parents who move here with them.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464,Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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